Monochrome and The Absence of Color

In our world full of bright colors it’s not often that we come across an absence of color in our daily lives. Monochromatic color can be described as a single base hue and it’s extensive shades, tones, and tints. There are many black and white websites. In fact, the different shades and tones can be achieved by adding black to create individual hues. Whereas, tints are achieved by adding white to the base hue and extending the tints from there.

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Though the term monochrome means one base color and it’s different shades or tints, it’s usually seen as being synonymous to black and white. Many refer to it as grayscale and usually see it as an absence of color and focus on tints and shades.


This idea of monochromatism on the grayscale also has become a symbol of good and evil throughout the centuries. In the western world specifically, the absence of color or the absence of light has taken on the persona of darkness and evil. Whereas the presence of light or white tints has been recognized as pure and good.

The darker shades on the monochromatic grayscale can also be used as a sign of power or law or authority. In many countries, the color black is worn by judges and lawmakers. Historically the uniforms of those in power consisted of primarily black until it switched to less menacing colors.

The lighter tints in these monochromatic scales usually symbolize life and death or can be a sign of opening a new passage in life. For example, ghosts, phantoms, and even the two horsemen of the apocalypse are all symbolized or take form in the color white. Weddings and births also are prominent when talking about the symbolism of the tinted white. It usually comes off as a sign of cleanliness or new beginnings.

Though the white tint is usually used to symbolize innocence, it has also historically been used in political movements. White can be associated with monarchism, like in France. It can also be used by racist and anti-immigrant groups like the KKK. It can also be used to make a passive statement such as the white ribbons worn to denounce violence against women and even the White Rose which was a non-violent resistance group during Nazi Germany.

Monochrome Art

Monochrome has always played a big role in art than in any other medium. One of the first instances of this happening was from an image of “Darkness” published by Robert Fludd. This image has been recorded as one of the first ever all-black artwork. However, this theme of monochromatism in an artwork was initiated by Paul Bilhaud in an 1882 Paris art exhibition named “Incoherent arts’”. Since then the art world has seen many new monochromatic pieces added to the large collection, including The Joconde Smoking Pipe from 1887.

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The Joconde smoking pipe by Sapeck, in Le Rire, 1887

Though monochrome artwork has been around for a long time, people usually understand monochromatic painting to have began in Moscow. With the Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich and his Suprematist Composition: White on White. As decades passed many new artists came and changed what was viewed as monochrome art and put their own twists on it.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915

New York had its fair share of abstract expressionists that used monochrome. Ad Reinhardt was an abstract expressionist and has earned a name for himself by painting nearly “pure” monochromes over his career. Whether that be in red, blue, and most popularly black. Ad Reinhardt’s work comprised of geometric indications with his preferred shades and hues.

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Abstract Piece by Ad Reinhardt

There are also minimalist artists that take on monochromatic themes in their paintings. Agnes Martin often did this by painting typically white or off white canvases and having faint marks of pencil lines across the painted surface. Another minimalist artist that took a liking to monochrome paintings was Brice Marden. He had a more formalistic approach, with works often being in gray tones and the slightest gradient to them.

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Brice Marden, The Dylan Painting, 1966

Neo-Dada and pop art artists have also tried monochrome. Robert Rauschenberg, for example, became known for his white, black, and even red monochrome canvases. Jasper Johns, a friend, and fellow neo-dada artist of Robert Rauschenberg, also made many monochrome paintings. His work consisted more of the color white and off whites and there was an absence of the darker shades. But both these artists embodied the approach of monochromatism through the typical brush works, and used the signature melancholic gray works from the era and added texture or texts.

While New York was pushing new artists throughout the years, Europe was also following behind. Gerhard Richter, a German artist has some world renowned monochrome works. The monochrome works usually present in pessimistic pieces and are made by drawing expressive gestures on wet paint. A Swiss painter named Olivier Mosset undertook a series of monochrome paintings. He used these paintings to form a radical painting group and also used his monochrome works to make implied radical social stance.

A fun moment in history where a monochromatic painting took center stage would be in the 1998 Tony awards. Where the Broadway play “Art” deployed a white monochrome painting as a prop. This was done to encourage arguments/disagreements on the aesthetics that made up a good portion of the play.


Monochromacy is the ability of machine and living organisms to only distinguish one single frequency of the electromagnetic light spectrum. For people, monochromacy is a form of color blindness that forms when two cone receptors of the eyes are not functional. This means that people who are diagnosed with monochromacy are reduced to only seeing blacks, whites, and grays.

Many animals in the animal kingdom are also reduced to this kind of vision. They are called monochromats. Some mammals that exhibit these conditions would be raccoon and kinkajous, along with a few rodents. However, it’s not only limited to those on land. Many sea mammals also are considered monochromats, such as seals, sea lions, walruses, dolphins, and even whales. So, while we enjoy monochromatism from time to time, others that are monochromats or have monochromacy are always seeing the world in shades and tints.

Appeal of Monochrome

It seems that as time progresses the idea or incorporation of the monochromatic theme is becoming more popular. The simplicity of the concept has been gaining a lot of followers. And more and more artists have tried to create their own masterpieces using this monochromatic method.

Many artists use monochrome to reduce the work into its simplest form. So that the focus is purely in its physical elements. Such as, in its color, texture, or the way it was created. Another purpose of using monochromatic art would be to have clear color schemes that keep audiences engaged. This means that the audience can solely focus on what the art is trying to say and truly understand the theme. Without distracting audiences from bright, flashy colors.

Monochrome color palettes work for a number of reasons. The concept of monochrome is not limited to only one type of design. This is why it’s usually a favorite for interior designers as well as many web developers.

Some benefits of using a monochrome color palette would be the sense of harmony it brings. Sticking to a single base hue and its tints and shades bring a cohesiveness to the piece. Another benefit would be the simplicity of the design. It would be easy to make and there you would never have to worry about colors clashing. Monochrome aesthetics also give a minimalistic style and allows the content to shine through.

Monochrome also is inclusive. It allows those with color blindness some accessibility benefits. Monochromatic allows contrasting elements to be seen as well. Another appeal of monochromatism is the impression it leaves, especially with a strong or unique base color.

Creating Monochrome

Creating a monochrome palette starts by picking out a base color. After that start creating lighter and darker color variants. This can be done through Adobe Color CC, where a monochromatic tool is provided. From there just start creating more tints and shades. Remember that the rules for regular color palettes still apply to the monochromatic one. With the only difference being that the monochromatic color palette originates from the same base. (Shade means adding black to the color to make it darker. Whereas, tint means adding white to the color to make it lighter).

Other helpful tips to keep in mind when discussing creating your own monochromatic work is to keep things simple. This gives users more time to absorb all the information without being distracted with the onslaught of information. Almost monochromatic designs are also a great thing to remember when trying to get one’s attention. This allows for the majority of the content to stay monochrome but also allows room for a pop of color to capture your audience.


Monochrome is and always has given artists to communicate their content without the distractions of mismatching colors and clustered pieces. They provide artists and designers a way to make simple yet effective ways to leave the audience with a memorable first impression.

Monochromatic themes are all around us, in art, nature, and web pages we choose to visit. They are a simple and effective option for brands both big and small. Whether its an interior designer, online marketer or web designer monochrome can be a source of motivation for artists. Especially, when they want to make a statement. Monochromatic color schemes are a great first impression and spark the interests of the audience. It’s fun to play around with and explore all the different color variants. Overall, monochromatic color schemes are timeless and the options are measureless.

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